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N. It means…something


I am pretty good at memorizing stuff. Like, pretty good.

When I was five, I took piano lessons where I memorized entire pieces instead of learning to read sheet music. In elementary school, I remember acing every spelling test and times tables test. My peak, however, was in high school. In English, I would memorize the definitions of 200 words in half an hour. I would say that my memory was my greatest strength in school. It got me the A’s and high test scores I needed.

Enter The University of Chicago and suddenly, my memory is nowhere near as helpful as it once used to be. I can remember the words in Das Kapital but I have no idea what Marx is talking about. As much as I would love to seize the means of production, I sadly lack the necessary tools.

This is because learning at The University of Chicago is like watching a film at the Sundance Film Festival, which is to say “weird.” As Britney Spears once so eloquently put it, “The movies are weird-you actually have to think about them when you watch them.” Similarly, in class, I actually have to think about the book I just read, its implications and relations to other material, instead of just memorizing a summary off Sparknotes.

A scene from Matt Ross’ film Captain Fantastic, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, perfectly illustrates the educational standards I remember. The main character Ben asks his daughter what the Bill of Rights are. Instantly, she begins to recite, but is stopped. Ben asks that she not regurgitate, but rather, explain. Only then is she able to provide an account on the importance of the Bill of Rights and what kind of country the U.S. would be without one.

Having taken two years of US history and one on American government, I should be in prime condition to explain the Bill of Rights. But, I can’t. I know that they are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and can describe perhaps five of them, but beyond that my memory fails me.

My memory is pretty good, but in school I was taught to remember things short-term. I remember dates, words, names and events only to regurgitate on the day of the test. Shortly thereafter, I forget in order to memorize new material. It was a cyclical process, and year after year I would memorize and forget an abundance of information. While there were some things I did remember, it pales in comparison to the amount of material I could have learned had I been taught in a manner that was not time-sensitive.

Despite memorizing hundreds of definitions numerous times, my vocabulary only ever increased if I practiced using the words either in everyday life or in my writing. My favorite tests were vocabulary tests in which I would have to incorporate all of the vocabulary words into a creative story. These tests not only improved my diction, but also my writing. It was one thing to write a character that just yells “ALTRUISTIC, RETROGRADE, CHERUBIC” and so on. It was another thing to integrate the words in a story that had a plot and structure that made sense. It is only now in college that I realize a lot of what I did in school was just yelling.

I would say that my memory was my greatest strength in school, but truthfully, it was my greatest weakness. It was a crutch that I relied on too heavily to be able to support my own when it came time to do so in college. I can’t play the piano in my living room, I can’t confidently speak about current social issues regarding gun regulation and I can’t write anything without having a tab open. If there is one thing to memorize from what I have said, it is to stop memorizing. Learn. There is a difference.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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